Daughters have been named after Biblical women for thousands of years. My daughter Sarah is one. Everyone knows a woman with one of those names, and most of us have loved someone with one of those names. Of those names, more girls have been named for Sarah than for any other woman in the Old Testament.
I’d like to start out this meditation by reviewing the story of Sarah, taken right from the Bible. A lot of us remember certain details about her firlife, but when I reread it, I found a number of episodes that I had forgotten.
In the first five books of the Bible, there are two names that are usually used for the Divine. The one which is translated into English as God is Elohim. But that name is a plural in the original Hebrew; it means “powers” and it encompasses both masculine and feminine genders. But over the years, it was almost forgotten that the naml.Elohim has both masculine and feminine sides. The Divine began to be thought of as singular and male. This is a distortion of the theology of monotheism. Both God and Goddess are included. Using the term Goddess seems an unfamiliar translation, it feels uncomfortable, but that is only because it is not traditional. It is hard to accept the term Goddess as fully equal to God because the female aspect of the Holy One has been hidden for so long. But Goddess also only gives a partial picture, just as the word God does. So I will use the word Elohim and you can translate it into English however you like.
The other name for God is made up of four Hebrew letters, Y,H,W,H. It is also a word without gender; in fact, it isn’t a name, it is the active form of the verb “to be”. When Moses asked the Holy One what name he should use to tell his people who had spoken to him, the answer was “I am that I am”. Some Christian Bibles use the terms Yahweh or Jehovah, but traditional Judaism forbids saying aloud the name of the Divine, and the actual pronunciation has been lost. Many English Bibles translate it as LORD (in all caps), which implies a male master. The translation I will be reading from uses the word “Yah” The pronoun “he” is both masculine, so it paints only half of the picture. So to “Infinite One” replaces the male pronoun in the version I will read.
Sarah’s story is told (along with Abraham’s) in Genesis, Chapters 11 to 23. It would take too long to read it all, so I will leave out parts that don’t involve Sarah directly. You can follow along in your own Bibles or the ones supplied under the pews, if you like.
Beginning in Chapter 11, verse 29: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai . . 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. . . .
1 Yah said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” …
5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan and they arrived there. .
10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land.
11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.
12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, “She is his wife’; then they will kill me, but let you live.
13Say you are my sister, so they will treat me well and spare my life because of you.
14 When they arrived in Egypt the Egyptians indeed saw that Sarai was very beautiful.
15 Pharaoh s’ officers saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And she was taken into Pharaoh’s house.
16 Abram was treated well because of her. He was given sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels and slaves.
17But Yah afflicted Pharaoh’s household with serious plagues of disease on account of Sarai.
18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “Why have you done to me? He said, Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?
19 Why did you say, “She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now here she is; take her, and go.
20 And Pharaoh gave his people orders to send them him on the way. with his wife and all that he had.
1 So Abram left Egypt, with his wife and Lot and all that he had, and went to the Negeb. . . .
1 Now Sarai had no children, but she had an Egyptian handmaiden named Hagar,
2 So Sarai said to Abram, “Since Ya has prevented me from having children; go in to my handmaiden. Perhaps I shall have children through her.” And Abram listened to her voice.
3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai took Hagar, her Egyptian handmaid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife.
4 He slept with Hagar, and she became pregnant. When she saw that she had conceived, she began to look down on her mistress.
5 Then Sarai told Abram, “This is your fault! I put my maidservant in your arms and now that she’s pregnant, she looks with contempt at me. . .
6 Abram replied, “Your maid is in your hands; treat her as you please.” Sarai treated her so harshly hat she ran away.
7 The angel of Yah found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness,.
8 And asked, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am escaping from my mistress Sarai.”
9 The angel of Yah said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.”
10 “I will make your descendants to numerous to count.”
11 “Behold! You are now with child and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, (Yan hears) for I have heard your suffering. . . .
13 Hagar called Yah, who had spoken directly to her, El Roi. For she said, “I have see the One who watches over me.”So she named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?”
14 This is why the well is called Beer-lahai-roi (Well of the Living One who sees me)
15 Hagar gave birth to a son; and Abram named his son by Hagar Ishmael.
16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael.
1 When Sarai was eighty-nine yearts old and her husband Abram was ninety-nine years old, Yah appeared to him and said, “I am El Shaddai. Live in my presence and be blameless.
2 And I will make a covenant between us, and will make you exceedingly numerous.”
3 Then Abram bowed with his face to the ground. Elohim spoke with Abram and said,
4 “This is my covenant with you: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
5 You will no longer be called Abram (Exalted Father), but your name shall be Abraham (Father of a Multitude) for I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make many nations come from you, and rulers shall come from you. . . .
7 I will maintain my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you generation after generation, as a covenant in perpetuity to be your Elohim and the Elohim of descendants after you.
8 and to your and your descendants I will give the country where you are now living — the entire land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding.” . . . . (circumcision ritual described)
15 Then Elohim told Abraham, ” Sarai shall no longer be called Sarai [Princess], but Sarah [Chieftainess] Elohim replied, “Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac.
16 I will maintain my covenant with him, an everlasting covenant with all his descendants. . . .
18 And Abraham said to Yah, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
19 Yah said, “Yes but your wife Sarah will bear you a son and you will call him Isaac”
20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and numerous; he will be the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation.
21 But my covenant I shall establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will give birth to at this time next year.”
22 The Infinite One finished speaking to Abraham and ascended.
1 Yah appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.
2 He looked up and saw three beings standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. . . . (meal preparation)
8 . . . and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They asked to him, “Where is Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.”
10 Then the Infinite One said, “I will appear to you again this time next year and Sarah will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.
11 Now Sarah was very old, she had stopped having monthly periods long agol
12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I’m past menopause, and when my husband is so old, am I to have pleasure?”
13 Yah asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and think she is too old to have a child old?’
14 Is anything too wondrous for Yah? At the set time I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son.”
15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; because she was frightened. But Yah said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
1 Sarah and Abraham journeyed toward the region of the Negeb, and settled between Kadesh and Shur. While they were staying in Gerar they told people that they were sister and brother.
2 The King of Gerar , Abimelech, sent for Sarah and took her.
3 One night Elohim visited Abimelech in a dream and said to him, “You are about to die because of the woman whom you have taken; for she is a married woman.”
4 But Abimelech had yet come in to her; so he said, “Would you klll someone who is innocent?
5 Didn’t the man tell me she was his sister? And didn’t she also say “he is my brother? I did this with integrity in my heart and in innocence?
6 Then Elohim said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart; furthermore it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.
7 Now send them back, for they are prophets, and they will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you should know that it means death to you and yours.
8 Abimelech rose early the next morning, and summoned his courts and told them the whole story, all these things; and they were frightened.
9 Then Abimelech called Abraham in and said to him, “What have you done to us? What wrong have I done you, for you to bring such guilt on me and on my kingdom. You had no right to treat me like that. What possessed you to do such a thing?
11 Abraham said, “I did it because I thought, that there is no fear of Elohim in this place and I would be killed because of my wife.
12 Besides, she is indeed my sister, my father’s daughter though not my mother’s; and she Do me the kindness of telling people, everywhere we go, “ He is my brother.’ ”
14 Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen, and slaves, and gave them to Abraham, and returned Sarah to him.
15 Abimelech said, “Dwell anywhere in my land that pleases you.”
16 To Sarah he said, “Look, I am giving your brother a thousand pieces of silver so that everyone will see you are not to blame.
17 Then Yah healed Abimelech and his wife and female slaves so that they could have children. Because Yah had sealed up all the wombs of the women in the household because of Sarah.
1 Then Yah visited Sarah and did what had been promised.
2 Sarah conceived and gave birth to a son at the time Elohim had said he would..
3And Abraham named his newborn son, the son whom Sarah had given birth to, Isaac (He laughs)
4 Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as Yah had commanded him.
5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac [laughter] was born.
6 Sarah said, “Elohim has played a joke on me. All who hear about this will laugh!”
7 And she said, “Who would have said that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have given birth to a son in my old age.”
8 The child grew, and a great feast was made on the day Isaac was weaned.
9 But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, playing with her son Isaac.
10 So Sarah told Abraham to drive out the maid and her son so that Ishmael would not share Isaac’s inheritance.,
11 Abraham was very distressed by this because he cared about his son.
12 But Elohim said to Abraham, “Do not distress yourself because of Hagar and Ishmael. Listen to Sarah’sr voice, because Isaac is the one through whom your name will live!
13 As for the son of Hagar, I will make a great nation out of him too also.
14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and sent her away with the child. And she wandered off in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she abandoned the child under a bush.
16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.
17 And Elohim heard the crying,and the angel of Elohim called to Hagar from heaven, and said to er, “What is wrong, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for Elohim has heard the boy’s cry.
18 Lift him up and hold him in your arms, for I will make a great nation of him.”
19 Then Elohim opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well of water. She went,and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
20 So Elohim was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.
Chapter 23 Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died in Hebron and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
There is an interesting burial story in Chapter 23 which answers the question, Where do you bury your loved ones when you are in a land occupied by foreigners?
Summary of Events in Sarah’s life
- Journey to Land of Canaan
- Two Cases of “Mistaken Identity”
- First Eviction of Hagar
- Birth of Isaac
- Second Eviction of Hagar (with Ismael)